North Korea’s most important court sentenced an American named Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia undergraduate, to 15 years in prison on Wednesday, weeks later after the authorities presented the man to the media, he, with tears in his eyes, said that he had tried to steal a propaganda banner.
He was charged with subversion under Article 60 of North Korea’s criminal code. The court held that he had committed a crime “pursuant to the U.S. government’s hostile policy, in a bid to impair the unity of its people after entering it as a tourist.”
North Korea regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of sending spies to overthrow its government to enable the U.S.-backed South Korean government to take control of the Korean Peninsula.
Tensions are particularly high following North Korea’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch, and massive joint military exercises now underway between the U.S. and South Korea that the North sees as a dress rehearsal for invasion.
The University of Virginia is aware of Otto’s situation and about the report. The University is keeping the contact with the man’s family, but there’s no additional comments at this time.
The reason of this man for committing the violation
Before the trial started, the 21-year-old man from Wyoming, Ohio, confessed that he had tried to steal the propaganda banner as a trophy for an acquaintance who wanted to hang it in her church. That would be grounded in North Korea for a subversion charge.
Trials for foreigners facing similar charges in North Korea are generally short and punishments severe. Warmbier was arrested as he tried to leave the country in early January. He was in North Korea with a New Year’s tour group.
U.S. tourism to North Korea is legal. Arrests of tourists are rare but the U.S. State Department strongly advises against such travel.
In a tearful statement made before his trial, Warmbier told a gathering of reporters in Pyongyang he tried to take the banner as a trophy for the mother of a friend who said she wanted to put it up in her church.
He said he was offered a used car worth $10,000 if he could get a banner and was also told that if he was detained and didn’t return, $200,000 would be paid to his mother in the form of a charitable donation.
Warmbier also said he had been encouraged by the university’s “Z Society,” which he said he was trying to join. The magazine of the university’s alumni association describes the Z Society as a “semi-secret ring society” founded in 1892 that conducts philanthropy, puts on honorary dinners and grants academic awards.
In previous cases, people who have been detained in North Korea and made a public confession often recant those statements after their release.